This is the second year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:
On Sunday, March 1, 2020, I saw a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) investigating a nest box I had filled with pine shavings the day before. The next day, I could see they were preparing it by removing shavings. Nuthatches are cavity nesters. They will often stash shavings and chips they remove from a cavity in the bark of the tree they are working in. I saw a lot of shavings stashed into crevices in the bark of the tree the nest box is attached to.
Kat noticed buds on the maples and oaks on Monday, March 2, 2020. One of our neighbor’s trees has large buds on it. I don’t recall seeing that large before.
It appears that as of Saturday, March 7, it is still mating season for the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) mating season. I saw a squirrel being chased by another in a manner suggestive of one being a female in heat and the other an interested male.
I saw and heard the first American Robin (Turdus migratorius) of the season on Tuesday, March 10. It was perched in a fruit tree adjacent to our patio.
While walking with Lizzie on Friday, March 13, we heard Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) singing near the pond on the north side of the street.
A Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has been a regular night time visitor. Other than a stray cat, it is the most frequent visitor to our night time yard.
From the images captured on the game cameras, it appears the opossum is searching for food under the shrubs in the back yard. It has been going there nearly every night for the last several weeks. Maybe it is finding grubs and worms. When I’ve looked in that area I haven’t found much of anything else.
I hope it keeps a low profile during the day because I don’t want Lizzie finding it. Two years ago, Lizzie found an opossum in our yard. When she attacked it, it played ‘possum, looking for all intents and purposes to be dead, releasing a foul-smelling liquid in the process. Lizzie, being a dog, promptly rolled in it.
Because the door to our house was wide open, I was concerned Lizzie would enter the house, fouling it with the her new “perfume”. I let her mess with the “dead” opossum while I stealthily made my way back to the open door. As soon as I closed it to prevent her ingress, I called her to me, ran to the exterior water faucet, turned it on wide open, and grabbed the attached hose. Grabbing her by the collar as soon as she got within reach, I hosed her down. Lizzie, disliking baths, tried to escape but I kept a firm grip on her until I had thoroughly rinsed her. To this day, she watches me warily any time I use the hose.
Now that the nighttime temperatures are above freezing, I have deployed our game cameras. I bought an additional camera so I could better understand the movement of animals through our yard. I had only deployed the second camera for a week when I observed a raccoon cross our yard from the west fence to the east fence. I’m hoping to make more observations like that because I’m curious how larger animals such as raccoons and fox move through our fence-enclosed yard.
The seemingly ubiquitous Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is the most frequently photographed animal by our game cameras. However, after a red fox was observed in our yard, I noticed there were less rabbit sightings.
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) clearly has no issue getting over our fence. I’m hoping to actually capture an image of one jumping our fence.
I have mixed thoughts about raccoons. One thought I have is they are just another animal passing through our yard like any other animal and they deserve to do so without harassment. Another I have is they have damaged our property and are a host for a type of intestinal parasite (Baylisascaris procyonis) that can infect humans. Realizing that I cannot keep them from our yard, I only undertake to keep them away from our house by utilizing repellants. Otherwise, I leave them be.
This year was the first time a game camera captured an image of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). I have seen them previously during both the day and night. Lizzie even found one in the big brush pile at the bottom of the hill, but, they have been eluding our cameras. However, something was triggering the new camera, which I had placed on the east side of the yard, but the camera was failing to capture any images. After I realized the motion sensor had a wider angle of detection than the camera had for image capture, I placed the camera closer to the ground. The next night, the camera captured images of an opossum.
On Nextdoor, people have reported seeing coyotes (Canis latrans) in nearby neighborhoods. Because of that, I don’t let Lizzie out alone at night. At 55 pounds, Lizzie easily outweighs a male coyote (about 30 pounds) but I don’t want her tangling with one regardless. I would, however, like to find images of one on our game cameras.
We have a dozen White oak (Quercus alba) trees on our property, several of which are large and overhang the house, patio, and sidewalks. Starting in August, there is a constant staccato of knocks on the roof when the oaks drop their ripe acorns. When the wind gusts, the bombardment from the falling acorns is particularly heavy. And this year, the bombardment has been especially heavy, even on calm days with little wind.
Last year, the oaks produced a very small crop of acorns, so much so that I don’t recall seeing any on the walkways. This year, as if to compensate for last year’s meager output, the oaks produced a copious quantity of acorns. Regardless if we sweep the walkways once or twice a day, by the next morning, they are covered with acorns.
This morning, the bombardment by the back steps seemed strangely intense and concentrated. Looking out the window, I saw two acorns hit Lizzie in quick succession. When I went to investigate, I saw a gray squirrel up on a branch. It was the cause of the intensified bombardment!
After the squirrel had ran off to a different tree, I ran inside the house to retrieve my phone so I could take photos. Returning with the phone, I squatted to take pictures of the acorns scattered on the sidewalk when I was hit on the head by an acorn! Unbeknownst to me, the squirrel had returned while I was inside and had renewed his bombardment!
Our game camera has captured plenty of daytime images but what interests me the most are the images captured at night. During the daytime, I frequently see the squirrels and birds that frequent our yard during the daylight hours. Below are a few images captured at night.
We occasionally see Easterncottontails in our yard during the day but I had hoped the presence of Lizzie in our yard would scare off the rabbits. However, the amount of images of rabbits captured by the game camera made me realize the real party is at night!
Prior to the erection of our fence, nighttime sightings of raccoons were a regular enough occurrence that I thought nothing of it. After our fence went up and we saw no raccoons during the day, I naively hoped they were not frequenting our yard. The image below informed me that they were still visiting our yard, even if only on an irregular basis.
Prior to our putting up our fence, a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) made regular rounds through our yard. On one occasion, I saw it lift its leg and piss on our garage. I also found the remains of several rabbits under shrubs and bushes that, I assume, belong to the fox. I thought that maybe the fence would dissuade the fox from entering our yard. Apparently, that is not true. Hopefully, the fox will eat the rabbits that have been frequenting our yard.
I bought a game camera with the hope of recording the coming and going of a nesting pair of White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) that were nesting in one of our nest boxes. For various reasons, that didn’t work out to my satisfaction. Looking for a use for the game camera, I placed it in various locations in our yard to discover what it might record. Below are a few images captured by it.
Another frequent visitor to our yard is the American robin, often with an eye towards the ground, looking for worms to eat. While gardening, I place any grubs I find on a stump for birds to eat. Robins are usually the first to snatch them up.
The Chipping Sparrow is a regular summer-time resident. I frequently see them hopping through the grass, looking for seeds and insects. They appear to be fairly bold birds, approaching within a few feet of Lizzie. Lizzie, for the most part, ignores them preferring to hunt for rodents.
The summer of 2013, we shared our yard with an whiteEastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) that we called Whitey. White and black squirrels are morphs of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Unless they have pink eyes, white squirrels are not albino.
Whitey had balance issues. He never seemed capable of running in a straight line. As he ran, he would veer to the right. He would then stop, correct his direction, and start running again, only to veer to the right. He also had issues staying upright on his hindquarters while eating. He often tipped over.
His being white was a marked disadvantage when it came to escaping predators. The local hawks often hunted him. We did our best to protect him by chasing off the hawks by throwing rocks at them. Unfortunately, Whitey lived with us only a year before he disappeared. I suspect a hawk got him despite our efforts to protect him.
We often found Whitey eating and digging under the shrubs next to our side patio.
Lizzie was laying down inside the door off of our living room. We have a magnetic screen door to allow easy egress while keeping out insects such a mosquitos. She was laying justing inside the screen door, watching for squirrels when she saw one crossing the yard from one tree to another. Leaping into action, she sprung from her spot and ran across the yard at full speed.
Despite being a fast dog, Lizzie normally poses no threat to gray squirrels. And like previous times, she wasn’t a real threat to this squirrel. The squirrel easily made it to a tree and scaled it to get out of reach of Lizzie.
This time, events played out unexpectedly. The squirrel fell out of the tree.
It fell out of the tree, landing on the ground in front of Lizzie. Lizzie looked at me with a quizzical look, as if to ask, “What should I do?”
The squirrel quickly righted itself and ran towards a different tree. Lizzie reacted quickly and gave chase. At this point, the squirrel was in desperate straits. When it attempted to climb another tree, Lizzie leaped and pulled it down. Lizzie chased the squirrel around the tree several times before the squirrel tried to run for the fence. Alas for the squirrel, that was its fatal mistake, for Lizzie easily ran it down and caught it.
After catching the squirrel and tossing it around a few times, it was clear that Lizzie didn’t know what to do with the squirrel. This resulted in a wounded squirrel that probably would not survive on its own. I put it out of its suffering by executing a cervical dislocation to sever its spinal cord.
Thus is the story of the first squirrel caught by Lizzie.
Prairie skink prefer sandy soils and open grasslands with loose soil so that they can construct their burrows. Our soil is mess of clay, sand, rocks, and humus and can become quite hard when it dries out. I usually see the skink in or near our gardens. Perhaps my working the soil in the gardens has created enough loose soil to provide a suitable habitat for the skink.